This general election is unlike any other, we are told. This time around, every vote counts. Not only are the two main parties neck and neck but, if they don’t take your fancy, there’s a selection of bizarre kingmakers in the minor parties.
But for many the drama is irrelevant. For we are the band – 25million strong – that live in safe seats. Our vote doesn’t count. We are the makeweight millions who, according to the Electoral Reform Society, have already decided 364 seats (out of the 650) without lifting a pencil stub or expressing a view.
In my constituency, Stephen Timms has the institutional east London Labour advantage coupled with a strong personal support.
Doesn’t matter if I vote for or against him. My vote won’t count. It will either be a snowflake atop a massive Labour mountain or a worm cast returned to the soil.
First past the post, the system that entrenches the disinterest of millions, had one great advantage.
It created stable governments. That’s its thing. For decades we looked askance at wobbly countries like Italy and shook our heads in smug wonder. All that energy they spent patching together power deals only to see them fall apart again while the economy went down the pan.
But now, it seems, first-past-the-post is first-past-its-sell-by date. In a country disenchanting with the political class, it is beginning to look like a stitch-up by the duopoly, and not a very good one at that.
A second cobbled-together government is almost certain, a second general election possible and years of compromise inevitable. Like last time, it will be the governance of Parliament rather than the governance of the country that will steal the first 100 days. The political class will do what it likes to do best – dwelling on itself rather than us.
The Economist magazine goes further. “Unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multi-party politics, Britain is more likely to get weak, unstable governments. That will only fuel the dissatisfaction with career politicians in the main parties. And if the parliamentary system comes to be seen as both unfair and ineffectual, then it is in for a crisis of legitimacy.”
Changing the voting systems to something more representational might result in a mess. But at least it would be a better mess, a democratic mess, my mess. I would have had some say in its creation and some investment in its resolution.